Rein Audio X3-DAC Review 
Home Theater Preamplifiers Stereo Preamps
Written by Andre Marc   
Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Rein Audio impressed me when I had the opportunity to review their very fine sounding X-DAC last year. The German based company, just a few years old, has since developed a few more products, including a headphone amplifier and a series of high performance cables. They also decided to design, from scratch, a higher end DAC with a few more options at a slightly higher price point. This could be seen as a risky move, since the DAC market is pretty crowded and, needless to say, very competitive.

Rein Audio developed the new X3-DAC, priced at $1280, to offer users a higher end experience, with several new features and upgrades over the X-DAC. First, the TosLink, Coaxial, AES/EBU, and USB inputs all handle 192 Khz, 24 bit data, and there is a pretty decent front panel LED display. There is optional upsampling to 192 Khz, and five user-selectable digital filters. As with the X-DAC, there are both XLR and RCA analog outputs, and the casework is impressive, as is the overall feel and build quality. Internally, the X3-DAC sports "twin Wolfson WM8741 converter chips preceded by a CS8416 digital receiver."  

Set Up and Listening

I initially used the X3-DAC with a Squeezebox Touch, connected via Kimber Opt-1 TosLink cable into the units optical input, then both Darwin Cable silver and Kimber KTCG interconnects. I went the modest supplied stock AC cable for the first half of the review period, and later a Shunyata Venom. No other special tweaking was applied. The Shunyata definitely elevated the performance of the X3-DAC.

Let me say right off the bat the X3-DAC is an excellent sounding component. Having had a parade of superb budget DAC models come through my listening room -- from the likes of PS Audio, Lindemann, Musical Fidelity, Mytek, and others -- there has been stiff competition. The X3-DAC held its own and then some. As a matter of fact, it may be in my top three DACs under or around $1500. It even gives my Bryston BDA-1, which costs $2200, a very good run.

Rein Audio X3-DAC

Specifically, there was sense of organic ease that analog lovers crave, yet with the precision and coherence digital-done-right offers. I kept looking for holes to punch into the X3-DAC’s sonic palette to no avail. It was not bright, edgy, etched, veiled, or smoothed over. It was just right.  There is no doubt it is a sonic step up from the X-DAC. While they are cut from the same cloth, at roughly $500 more, the X3-DAC offers more nuance, grip on the bass, and a more luxurious midrange.

I experimented with the upsampling feature, and then ultimately left it engaged. It brought added dimension to most recordings. I very much like having the option to engage or disengage. Most DAC models in this price range upsample by default unless they are of the “NOS” variety. I used both the RCA and XLR analog outputs, but preferred the RCA in the end.

I streamed a large and varied amount of music via my Ethernet connected Squeezebox Touch for X3-DAC to convert to analog; maybe more music than for any other DAC review. This is partly because I was enjoying my time with the X3-DAC very much, and partly because I was trying to see if it leaned one way or another sonically. I started off with a two-disc classic salsa collection, La Voz, by legendary singer Hector Lavoe. The music is a complex stew of percolating rhythms, horn lines, and Lavoe’s soaring vocals. The X3-DAC handled these recordings beautifully and allowed all mix elements mix to gel.


The X3 proved it could be nimble and nuanced when the music called for it, and it could also sound big and bold on music with lots of dynamic content. Jamoriqaui's 2010 high-energy album, Rock Dust Light Star, has deep, funky bass lines, heavy beats, and great hooks. The X3-DAC provided flawless low end muscle and overall excitement to these excellent songs. In a word, there was tons of groove factor.

As I varied the program material, I learned the X3 was capable of so much more. For instance, switching over to more intimate music showed how nuanced and delicate the X3-DAC could be. The band Arborea, consisting of a husband and wife duo, make gorgeous, mind-bending folk and gothic influenced soundscapes with just voice, guitar, and various exotic instruments. The X3-DAC allowed the intimacy of the pair’s albums to shine through, and yet allowed the music to sound spacious when the mix became denser.

Rein Audio X3-DAC

I used the X3-DAC’s USB input with my Windows 7 laptop running Jriver 18. After a quick driver install, it sounded excellent, was plug and play, and handled all sample rates up to 192 Khz. I should mention the TosLink input had no problem with all sample rates, as I made sure to stream albums at 44.1, 88.2, 96 and 192 Khz. As side note, I feel that DAC models over $1000 that don’t do 192 Khz on all inputs are not really being competitive in the marketplace, and Rein has that covered.

I tested all five digital filters available on the X3-DAC. It was very close, but I found myself using filter 2 most of the time. None of the filters sounded bad, mind you, and selecting a filter, which are very subtle in their differences, will be a matter of taste. While not essential, filters are a bonus if you are a born tweaker.

Conclusion

The audiophile DAC market is super crowded and super competitive. With so many models to choose from with varying connectivity, feature sets, resolution capabilities, and looks, standing out is a tough task. Just like the PS Audio NuWave DAC, I believe the Rein Audio X3-DAC does stand out from the crowd due to its superb sonics and impressive feature set. I am big fan of optional upsampling and 192 Khz resolution across all inputs. Also, for this user, sample rate display is a must. Rein has those boxes checked. As far as selectable digital filters, I can live without them, but they are a nice plus.

 

Rein Audio X3-DAC

I liked the feel and look of the X3-DAC as well, and to be quite honest, I find it amazing that this only is Rein Audio’s second digital product -- it is that good. The $1280 price tag is very fair; to do better you might have to spend quite a bit more. Without a doubt, the X3-DAC will be my reference going forward for DAC models in the $1000 to $1500 range.

I recommend the Rein Audio X3-DAC for those listeners who want a digital source component that will get them off the merry go round for a long time to come. You will be able to sit and enjoy your music collection in all realistically available PCM resolutions, with four digital inputs to choose from, and both balanced and unbalanced outputs. The Rein Audio X3-DAC is what I call a complete package.


Specifications



Rein Audio X3-DAC: $1280
www.reinaudio.com

Digital input: USB 2.0 Interface , Coaxial / Fiber Optical / AES/EBU: 16Bit, 24Bit sampling depth; 32kHz, 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz, 176.4kHz, 192kHz sampling
Line output: XLR balanced and RCA unbalanced



Review System 1


CD Transport: Musical Fidelity M1 CDT
Server: Squeezebox Touch w/ CIA VDC-SB power supply
via Ethernet to MAC Mini w/ Western Digital & Seagate
external drives.
DAC: Bryston BDA-1, MyTek Stereo 192 DAC
Headphone Amp: Pro-Ject Head Box II
Headphones: Grado SR60
Preamp: Audio Research SP16
Amplifier: Audio Research VS55, Bob Carver Black Magic
Speaker: Martin Logan Ethos, Thiel CS2.4
Cables:  Stager Silver Solids, Kimber KCTG (IC), Transparent  MM2 Super (IC), Transparent Plus (Speaker) Acoustic Zen Tsunami II (AC),Transparent (AC).Shunyata Venom (AC) Element Cable Red Storm (Digital AC), DH Labs TosLink, DH Labs AES/EBU, Audioquest, Forest, WireWorld Ultraviolet, DH Labs USB(USB) DH Labs (USB)
Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks, Shakti Stone, Audience Adept Response aR6 power conditioner,Salamander rack

Review System 2


CD Player: Onkyo C7000R
Music Server: Squeezebox Touch via Ethernet to
MAC Mini w/ Western Digital & Seagate external drives.
DAC: Musical Fidelity V-DAC II
Integrated Amplifier: McIntosh  MA6600, Wyred4Sound mINT
Tape Deck: Revox A77
Speaker: Harbeth Compact 7ES3, Definitive Technology StudioMonitor 65
Cables: Darwin Cables Silver IC, Kimber Hero HB,  DH Labs White Lightning (IC),QED Genesis Silver Spiral (Speaker),PS Audio (AC), Mojo Audio (AC), DH Labs TosLink, Audioquest Forest USB, Wireworld Ultraviolet USB
Accessories:Cable Pro Noisetrapper, Sound Anchors Stands, Wiremold, KECES XPS


 






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